Saw is precisely the type of horror thriller that major movie critics will love to hate, but that the Internet crowd will mostly jump all over. It is relentlessly gory, painfully sadistic, and about as pleasant as those snuff films that circulated around college dorms during the Nine Inch Nails era of pop masochism. The premise is original by Hollywood standards, but it’s mostly rehashed ideas that have been circulating within a different subculture, the type of thing that one of the more twisted guys that haunt the graphic novel section of your local Borders would come up with. (Actually, it reminded me a lot of the Clive Barker short story, “Dread,” from the Books of Blood series). It is also an intriguing amalgam of Seven, The Usual Suspects, and The Silence of the Lambs, filmed with grim, camcorder graininess. And judging by the burly, tattooed man sitting next to me with his hand over his face for much of the movie, Saw effectively does what it sets out to do, which is to say, it’s not something your subconscious will soon forget.
When the movie opens, two men wake up in what appears to be a squalid, abandoned bathroom. Adam (the screenwriter, Leigh Wannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes, the rich man’s Bruce Campbell) are chained to pipes on two sides of a room with a dead man lying in a pool of blood between them. Asked what he remembers, Adam only knows, “I went to sleep in my shit hole apartment last night and I woke up in an actual shit hole.”
The man responsible for their whereabouts, we learn, is the Jigsaw murderer, notable for the elaborately gruesome traps in which he leaves his victims, which require that they either resort to self-mutilation or murder someone else to escape. In one scenario, for instance, a woman (Shawnee Smith) must cut open her cellmate’s stomach to retrieve a key in order to unlock a bear trap affixed to her mouth before it springs open, separating her face at the jawbone.
In the current puzzle, Gordon and Adam learn from microcassette tapes left for them that Gordon must murder Adam by 6 p.m. or his wife and daughter will be killed. Adam, meanwhile, must escape before Gordon kills him by using a bone saw to cut off his own foot. Through a series of flashbacks, we also learn that Gordon was once suspected of being the Jigsaw murderer, a handy plot turn that allows us to learn more about the serial killer and introduce the cop (Danny Glover) obsessed with the Jigsaw case.
First-time director, Australian James Wan, leaves nothing up to the imagination, using quick edits — not to hide anything, but to emphasize the visceral impact of the revolting images, which are as gruesome as anything I’ve seen on celluloid since Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Saw is undeniably disturbing, even for hardcode horror geeks; it is an ideal film for those who relish cinematic brutality. The plot devices are smart — if not slightly flimsy — twists on old serial killer machinations, taken perhaps a bit too far. Indeed, the unsettling feeling that overwhelms as you leave the theater may be an intended effect, distracting the viewer from thinking about the too clever way in which the film wraps up. Still, even the outrageous plot contortion that ends the film cannot dim the remorseless terror that Saw inflicts.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Saw / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()